It’s No 1 vs No 2 in the I-League, and a Kolkata Derby. East Bengal will look to widen the gap
The Kolkata Derby. It really could not have come at better time, East Bengal top of the table, followed by Mohun Bagan — a rare reversal in recent fortunes. The clash had lost meaning for fans outside the city the past few seasons, with the East failing to win a title since the national league became the I-League in 2007 (though they have dominated the Calcutta league, winning seven in a row).
Trevor Morgan’s direct, defensivelysound play – one goal conceded in their last four games – will measure itself against Sanjoy Sen’s more attacking style that uses the talents of Katsumi Yusa, Sony Norde and Jeje Lalpekhlua to get behind the defensive line.
East Bengal’s rise this season started with the turnaround win against Bengaluru FC. Having gone a goal down against the champions, they did well to strike back in about five minutes, and then grab the winner in the second half. Albert Roca, BFC coach, spoke of EB’s ability to create chances with the ‘long ball’ after. “In the second half… we conceded some easy counterattacks. Also we have to check the long balls. They created many chances with just long balls.”
It was a struggle the first two games, drawing versus Aizwal and narrowly winning against DSK Shivajians. But having won against BFC, they’ve dispatched opposition rather easily the next three games.
Robin Singh, Willis Plaza and Wedson Anselme — who occupies the No 10 role more often than not — have formed a simple but efficient triangle up front that also relies on crosses into the area from the fullbacks (Narayan Das has been rather good going forward, and Rahul Bheke has improved well after a slow start to the season). All three up front are also capable of physically dominating defences. It’d be a tough contest with injuries to Eduardo Ferreira and Raju Gaikwad hurting Bagan’s defensive line.
Lalrindika Ralte, a regular starter in midfield, has impressed in finding spaces and the troika within opposition defences. Robin, who missed all of last season with an injury, looks good for a return to form. He’s a real presence in the box and would love to make a comeback to the I-League with a title win, and a three-point derby would make them early favourites. Bagan would need the win to keep up with EB, who’re three points ahead with one extra match played. And they’re also the most likely to unlock East Bengal’s defence. Yusa, Norde and Lalpekhlua represent the sort of fleet-footed dribblers that can hurt Morgan’s plans. Gurwinder Singh and Ivan Bukenya do well when sitting back and absorbing pressure, but an attack moving at pace can unsettle the duo, neither of whom are as fast the Bagan attackers. There will also be times when both Bheke and Das will be called on to move forward, and there is none like Yusa to unlock a stubborn defence. The experienced Japanese will be crucial, considering that they’ve shipped four goals in their last three games (including three goals in two games in the AFC Cup against Colombo FC) and will need at least one goal. The big improvement over last season is that Sanjoy Sen can call upon Glasgow lad Darryl Duffy. He ended last I-League season in good form for Salgaocar and has already added six to his league tally this season. He’s quick-witted, strong and great in the air. Sen, who likes to crowd the midfield with a 4-4-1-1, could start both Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh – both hard tacklers – if he considers East Bengal capable of disrupting his midfield. He did accept that the opposition is playing the better football, but tried to minimise the need for a result: “The fans want a win at any cost and we will go all out to get a win. (But) I don’t believe that a defeat will end our chances to win the title.” Last season, it was a second loss on the trot after an unbeaten start — first against Aizwal and then East Bengal — that derailed their season. Sen would be aware of the importance of keeping a record intact, and as neither of the teams have lost one so far this season, a draw would make sense tactically (they’ve done so three of the last five times). However, considering it’s the derby, both sets of fans would want the win for bragging rights — for what is a title for eitherwithoutawinagainst their eternal rivals. East Bengalfanshadwalkedout last season as they could not understand the club’s lack of an I-League title. This could be the season to right that wrong. 4.35pm
East Bengal’s Willis Plaza
Mohun Bagan’s Darryl Duffy